Acts 16:11-40
Praise From Prison

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1 A voice singing praise from prison is heard.  Paul and Silas sing praises in the midst of the darkness and hold prayer.  The other prisoners are listening hard.  It is an unusual scene.  What on earth is going on?  As the title of  "Praise From Prison" says the focus of today's sermon is an event inside the jail at Philippi.  But, before turning our eye on the event which occurred there with these characters, we must ascertain why they were in the jail at Philippi in the first place.

Even Though They Followed God's Lead

2 Please recall the passage I read you last week.  Paul and Silas originally had no plans to cross the sea and head to Europe.  They wanted to do missions first in the province of Asia, perhaps at Ephesus.  But, those plans were put to a stop by God.  The text says, "They were forbidden by the Holy Spirit."  Then they changed direction to the north.  They went towards the province Bithynia.  However, God hung a stop sign there as well.  "The spirit of Jesus would not permit it."  Finally, while seeking for guidance, they went down to Troas.  Then, through a vision there, they obtained guidance from God.  It was a sign for Philippi.  Therefore, this was not something that came from humanity but had come from God.

3 Philippi, where they arrived, was "a Roman colony," (verse twelve).  Many retired military personnel settled in, it seemed as if it were a town that should be called little Rome.  The work there began from a small location. In Philippi there was not a Jewish synagogue.  There was only a place of prayer by the river bank.  This means that Jewish males were few in number.  Paul and his group proceeded to the place of prayer at the river bank and there gave the gospel to the women.  So, God began his work even from a small spot.  There was in attendance a person who dealt in purple cloth; a woman named Lydia who revered God was there.  She, whose heart was opened by the Lord, was listening to their speeches with deep interest. Faith dwelled inside the woman who was listening to the Word.  The result of that was she and her family became the first Christians at Philippi. She invited Paul and all with him to her home.  As you look at verse forty, it seems her home became the mission station in Philippi.  Though it was a small beginning, we could say it got off well.

4 But, soon troubles emerged.  A female slave taken up with a fortune telling spirit followed after them.  She was screaming this:  "By the work of the most high God these men are proclaiming the way of salvation to everyone."  Then, for several days this same thing kept on.  We don't need to say things like "How thankful we are the local divinators are also giving testimony of Christ."  When she was speaking on "the most high God," what was meant by that was not the one and only God, the creator of heaven and earth.  She meant could there possibly be a place for the highest spiritual being among the gods?  It is a message similar to the one Ryuho Okawa talks about in El Cantare.*  The gospel of Christ doesn't need the testimony of evil spirits.  Plus, one shouldn't be taken in by all the different occult things out there.  Paul took a firm stand against such things.

5 Paul drove out the fortune telling spirit in the name of Jesus Christ and set her free.  It seemed by that action he solved a problem.  But, things were not resolved to so simple a settlement.  As she was a slave, [problems remained] because she was used by her masters for a purpose.  The woman who could no longer divine was not able to turn them a profit.  The masters arrested Paul and Silas who caused the unprofitability and appealed to the high officials.  Besides that, they made up charges that did not exist. They said, "These persons are Jews and have caused chaos in our town.  They are propagating customs which do not allow what we, as citizens of the Roman empire, have accepted and practiced."  This appeal aroused the pride of the many Romans who were in Philippi.  Then, at the same time they fanned the fires of the anti-Jewish sentiment which had probably been among them.  "The crowd joined in and persecuted the two men," which ought to have had no direct interest in them.  As a result, they were stripped violently, beaten with a whip, and jailed by an unjust misunderstanding.

6 Please put yourself in such a position and give it some thought.  He believed God's will, took the trouble to cross the sea and came to Philippi.  There the fruit of this mission first appeared bound up and tied down, and the good deed of the woman who was freed aroused ill will and resistance instead.  They got entangled in a misunderstanding for no reason, they got hurt and in the end they got put in prison.  If this is the end of persons who follow God, this is not as miserable as it could be.  They were in a state where they wanted to shout both to God and to humanity:  Why did you have to treat us like this?

Praise From Prison

7 But, they made praises in jail all through the night.  They spent the night without sleeping.  Their wounds from getting whipped throbbed.  It is said the shackles were used in torture in which they fixed it so that it opened the foot.  They had no future to look forward to after this. However, in the darkness which they were surrounded by walls, they were praising God.

8 They desperately defended themselves and proved their innocence but they did not get solutions for their current situation.  Furthermore, as we see later, Paul and Silas had Roman citizenship but by relying on the power of this world they would not open the way of liberation.  They earnestly looked up to God and prayed by singing songs of praise.  Why is that?  The imagery now was of ruined persons who believed in God but they hardly thought anything of it.  It is because they knew that the currently miserable state of affairs was not the end of the story.  It is because they knew they were on the way [to a divine destination].

9 If they were on the way to something, God himself was moving the chess pieces.  From here he has started something brand new.   How happy is the person who knows that the current state of things is no more than a process in which the plan of God's will will be realized.  How happy is the person who is able to anticipate the next stop/step from God?  We see here the figure of the truly happy believer.  Furthermore, God surely reveals himself where there is an anticipation for such a God and a reliance on him.  God will intervene no matter if you are in prison surrounded by walls in every direction or by anywhere.

10 What was happening here?  Please look at verse twenty-six.  The text says, "All of a sudden, a great earthquake arose, and the foundations of the jail were shaken."  The phrase "all of a sudden" means that God's intervention goes beyond human expectation and human prediction.  God does not move according to a human time table.  With God he has time.  So, this miracle of God came from an unexpected direction.  It appeared we see at the door in which a person was closed in.  If we are placed in a reality like a prison of hardship and trouble we will probably see only the door way.  But, they were not looking at the door, they directed their hearts to God.  And, the intervention of God did not come from the door way.  It came from below.  It came from the foundations.  Since they originally had not been looking at the door way they had no interest in the fact itself that "the door of the cell opened."  Therefore, Paul and Silas stayed in the cell.  Then, they directed their thoughts to what God would do next.

What Should I Do To Be Saved?

11 What Paul and Silas saw after the earthquake was a man about to kill himself.  The keeper of the jail knew that sooner or later he could not avoid the charge of having prisoners get away.  Therefore, he had judged his own life.  At that time, Paul cried out with a loud voice.  "Don't hurt yourself.  We are all here."  The jailer rushed into the cell area and prostrated himself while trembling before Paul and Silas and he said the following as he lead the two men outside.  "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

12 We need to think hard on why this message came out of his mouth.  What did the man see who had only just then decided death upon himself?  The ones standing before him were two men who had been whipped, full of injuries and powerless men.  But, even though they were powerless, they were with God and had the posture of men living in reliance upon God.  As he stood before Paul and Silas who were in prison and with God, I believe this jailer realized within that he himself was in the presence of God. Therefore, the ending was not "the prisoners did not flee, it was all okay, and he did not end up dead."

13 When a person is made to realize he or she is in the presence of a holy God, he or she is made to stand before great statements where words like "all is okay" just blow away to nothing.  [What matters] is the statement, "Am I being accepted by God?"  Or will I be taken out of the way, judged and destroyed?  Therefore, the words form the mouth of the jailer were not "all is okay," or  "thank you."  It was words pertaining to the seeking of the way of truth, "What must I do to be saved?"

14 The place we are in is completely different from where the jailer is. They were in a jail cell and we are in a place of worship.  But, won't you notice how what was happening was essentially no different?  When we are worshipping together in like manner as they did the decisively important thing is that "Along with people who are in God's presence is myself included."  He dares to say it but it is not only the small number of people here, but they are together in the same place with Paul and Silas who are in worship before God.  That is, they are in the presence of God. There then, in the final analysis the great problem is whether we have received God or not.

15 This jailer stood before the Holy One bringing along the life he had lived up to then  When we worship like that, after the life we have lived is cut down we will be in the presence of God.  When our life time is finished, we will stand before God just as our lives have been cut down. Will we be accepted by God?  "What should we do to be saved?"

16 The two men answered:  "Believe on the Lord Jesus.  If you do, both you and your house will be saved."  When we ultimately stand before God, there is not even one thing we can do for ourselves or for our families.  We can only be received by God by looking to the cross of the Lord Jesus together and believing the forgiveness of sin by his redemption.  This means that each week's worship, we could say, is an ultimate event.  We cannot do anything for our own salvation here nor for other people's salvation.  It's only as believers in the Lord Jesus that we are received by God while we look to the cross and stand before him.

17 Paul preached the gospel to the jailer and all the members of his house.  They believed and received baptism.  Furthermore, the text says in verse thirty-four, "He rejoiced with his house in becoming believers in God."  "To believe in God" is not "to believe in the existence of God."  It is to live by trusting in God as persons forgiven by God, as persons accepted by God.  They rejoiced greatly together with this household because their new life had begun in which they lived in dependence on God like Paul and Silas who had kept singing while in prison.

18 When morning came, the high officials sent their aides to say, "Release these persons."  Of course, there wasn't a formal trial held, and they probably felt best to banish them after a whipping and some jail time. But, at this point Paul revealed that he held the right to Roman citizenship.  Then, he claimed that the high officials themselves should come to take him out.  The next event was a real thrill.  "The aides informed the high officials of this message.  The high officials were afraid when they heard the two men held rights to citizenship in the Roman empire, and came to give an apology, and lead them out of prison and helped them leave town.  The two also left prison, went to Lydia's house, and the brothers, and after giving them encouragement departed," (verses thirty-eight through forty).  It is believed that when they revealed they were Roman citizens it was for the church soon to be born and left behind and not so much for the recovery of their own honor and prestige.

19 But, besides that, what kind of detour did they take?  Originally before getting beaten by a whip one made reference to Roman rights to citizenship.  It would have been fine to jump in one leap from verse twenty-two to verse thirty-eight.  Of course, since they were in the midst of a disturbance by insurgents and the drawn in multitude they might not have been able to go on through to making any claim [to citizenship].  Some kind of circumstances were probably in the way.  At any rate, after experiencing the detour of hardship which first seemed to be unnecessary, the keeper of the jail and his family were saved.  Therefore, the cornerstone of the Philippian church was built.  The work of God progressed soundly even during a process like this amidst such human feelings and thoughts.

End Notes:

*Ryuho Okawa was born July 7, 1956 in Tokushima Perfecture, Japan.  He graduated from Tokyo University and studied finance at New York University.  On March 23, 1981 he claims to have received a vision, a mission, and the consciousness or spirit life of Buddha himself.  According to his teaching, he is an incarnation of the grand spirit of the earth called El Cantare, which was also once partly revealed in Hermes of Greece and Buddha of India.  He began to teach about El Cantare or "The Kingdom Of Joyous Light On Earth."  He established the "Institute For Research In Human Happiness" and wrote over 150 books.  The principle tenet of this religion seems to be "to be happy love others without expecting anything in return," which is summarized as "a love that gives."  His teachings herald "the hope of a new terrestrial era."  Orthodox, historic Christianity considers this religion to be a New Age cult that goes beyond the teachings of the Bible and preaches an adulterated Jesus.

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